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Lawyer for driver of death car says probe ‘one-sided’

STORY BY RAY MCNULTY (Week of October 14, 2021)
Photo of A1A roadside memorial for Michael Gianfrancesco and his dog.

The driver of the speeding car that struck and killed island resident Michael Gianfrancesco as he walked his dog alongside A1A has hired a private, Fort Pierce-based attorney who said the “full story” of the crash hasn’t yet been told.

Ed Mosher said he is representing Jamie Jarvontae Williams against charges of vehicular homicide in Indian River County and violation-of-probation in St. Lucie County – both in connection with the fatal crash that occurred shortly before 8 p.m. on Memorial Day near Gianfrancesco’s home at The Dunes.

“I’ve been on the case for only a week, so, other than speaking to my client, I really haven’t gotten into the nitty gritty yet,” Mosher said. “The charges are very serious, but the investigation conducted so far has been one-sided.

“We have confidence that, once we begin investigating and the full story is told, my client will be exonerated.”

Williams, 27, of Fort Pierce, is currently being held without bond at the St. Lucie County Jail for allegedly violating the conditions of his probation in connection with his 2018 conviction on two felony charges.

He was already behind bars when the Florida Highway Patrol completed its crash investigation and he was charged with vehicular homicide last month. Indian River County Judge Nicole Menz set his bond here at $250,000.

But Mosher said Williams “probably” will remain in jail on the violation-of-probation charge until the vehicular homicide case is resolved.

The FHP’s recently released investigation report reveals that Williams was driving his 2018 gray Chevrolet Impala in excess of 100 mph – more than double the 45-mph speed along that stretch of A1A – in the northbound lane and was attempting to pass other vehicles when he lost control and veered right onto the grassy area on the east side of the roadway.

Headed for a utility pole, Williams attempted to regain control, but he overcorrected to the left and sent the car into a spin, the report states.

FHP investigators calculated that the vehicle was traveling about 70 mph as it slid into Gianfrancesco and his dog, both of whom were more than 20 feet from the roadway when they were struck.

Gianfrancesco’s lifeless body was discovered in a wooded area east of the grassy shoulder, more than 50 feet from the point of impact.

According to the report, Williams admitted to being the driver and told Indian River County Sheriff’s deputies, “I was really trying to speed and get around like three or four cars.”

The fatal crash, however, occurred in a no-passing zone.

One of Williams’ two passengers, Joe Fletcher Bailey II, told deputies at the scene that Williams was driving “too fast” and already had passed two or three vehicles, the report states, adding that he “told him to slow down.”

During one high-speed pass, Williams moved into the southbound lane, forcing an oncoming car off the road and onto the grassy shoulder to avoid a head-on collision.

Bailey, who was in the backseat, said he was so scared by Williams’ reckless speeds and dangerous maneuvers that he “laid back in the seat, praying with my seatbelt on.”

Williams claimed he was trying to slow down when he lost control of the car, telling deputies “that’s what made us wreck,” adding that he was concerned about the conditions of his brakes when driving at higher speeds.

“The engine was running hard, and the brakes do not stop fast,” the report quotes him as saying.

The FHP report also stated the “roadway was wet because of the sprinklers that were activated in the area,” and that Williams didn’t appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol in the immediate aftermath of the crash.

Williams agreed to provide blood and DNA samples at the scene, and he tested positive for methamphetamine. The toxicology report revealed no trace of alcohol, however, and he wasn’t charged with driving under the influence.

Neither Williams nor his passengers were injured in the crash.

In July 2020, Williams was sentenced to 24 months of probation after a no-contest plea to charges of carrying a concealed firearm without a permit and  attempted tampering with evidence in St. Lucie County. His plea also covered a misdemeanor resisting-arrest charge.

However, Williams wasn’t arrested immediately after hitting Gianfrancseco and remained free until July 1, when the State Attorney’s Office obtained a warrant alleging that he:

• Violated his probation by leaving St. Lucie County without the consent of his probation officer.

• Failed to include on his monthly check-in form his crash-related interaction with law enforcement in Indian River County.

Williams’ next court dates are docket calls – where prosecutors and defense attorneys provide judges with updates on the status of their cases – scheduled for Oct. 27 in Indian River County on the vehicular homicide charge and Dec. 6 in St. Lucie County for the violation-of-probation charge.

Circuit Judge Dan Vaughn has been assigned the vehicular homicide case, and Circuit Judge Lawrence Mirman will preside over the violation-of-probation case.

Mosher said he plans to address the vehicular homicide charge first because that case could impact the resolution of the violation-of-probation case. For example: Prosecutors might work together and offer a plea deal covering both cases.

Williams faces maximum prison terms of 15 years on the vehicular homicide charge and five years on each of the two prior felonies, and Mosher said he hasn’t yet received any plea offers from the State Attorney’s Office.

“I expect there will be an offer at some point,” he added.

Violation-of-probation hearings are not subject to the same rules as criminal trials, and the accused – because they’ve already been convicted and sentenced – are not afforded the same legal protections.

A judge, not a jury, decides such cases. Hearsay is admissible as evidence. Defendants can be compelled to testify against themselves, at least to some degree. The threshold for proving guilt is a preponderance of the evidence, rather than beyond a reasonable doubt, as is the standard in criminal trials.

Assistant State Attorney Bill Long, who works in the Vero Beach office, said he and St. Lucie-based prosecutor Justin Cormier will “collectively” handle the cases against Williams.

“These are separate cases with separate prosecutors, but, obviously, we all work for Tom Bakkedahl,” Long said, referring to the 19th Circuit’s State Attorney.

As for the possibility of negotiating a plea deal that encompasses all the charges against Williams, Long said, “That’s not something I discuss publicly until it’s been finalized.

“This case is in active prosecution,” he added, “and we’re proceeding with the intention of going to trial.”